Use Your Helicopter (Parent)

Posted by Lindsey Pollack on May 6, 2011
Use Your Helicopter (Parent)
Have you heard that the Millennial generation is sometimes referred to as the “Helicopter” generation? 

Why, you ask?

Because some parents of your generation “hover” over their kids.  (And yes, really aggressive, super-involved parents are nicknamed “Black Hawks.”)

Whether your parents are very involved in your life or tend to be more hands-off, I believe that moms and dads (and stepmoms and stepdads) can play an important and useful role in the job searches of college students and recent grads.  If you’re comfortable asking your parents for help with your career, there is a lot they can do to support you at any stage.  Why not use every resource you’ve got—especially one that loves you?

The thing is, there are some areas where it is totally appropriate and encouraged for your parents to help with your career planning and job search.  At the same time, there are other situations where it is totally inappropriate for your parents to be involved.  So, be careful!  And, when in doubt, ask someone outside of your family (such as a career services staff person, a professor, or a trusted professional friend) whether parental involvement would be Kosher or not.

When to green light Mom and Dad’s help:
Parents are most helpful and appropriately involved in your career planning and job search when they act as support and a sounding board.  Here are some examples:
•    Reviewing your assessments together.  When you take any assessments tests—online, with a career coach, or in a book, your parents can be a great help in reviewing the answers.  They are very familiar with your skills and talents, so their knowledge of you can help you understand results that may be confusing to you.  For instance, they may remind you of activities you loved as a child that you may have forgotten about, but that show up as strong interests on an assessment test. 
•    Rehearsing for interviews.  Just as our parents can be our biggest supporters, they can also be our biggest critics because they want us to be our very best.  Many students ask their parents to help them practice for interviews, by running through questions, helping to choose an interview outfit, or videotaping a rehearsal.  I recommend practicing with other people in your life as well (such as your school’s career services office), but the more practice, the better.
•    Proofreading.  You can never have too many people checking your resume, cover letters, and any other professional correspondence.  If your parents have good grammar and spelling abilities, ask them to check some of your career-related writing. 
•    Networking.  Your family members count as part of your network.  Ask your parents if they’d be willing to sit with your Really Big List and brainstorm any of their contacts who might be helpful for you.  You’d be amazed at how many people come to mind when they really think about it.  And I suspect that many parents don’t even know exactly what kinds of connections their kids are looking for. 
This was certainly the case in my family.  As you know, In college I was considering becoming a lawyer and told my parents such.  I ended up going to Australia for two and a half years, and by the time I came home I had switched my interests to writing.  A few years later when I got my first book co-authoring deal, I did what any good girl would do—called my parents to share the news.  When my dad picked up the receiver I said, “Dad, I have great news!  I just got my first book deal!”  He replied, “That’s so great, honey!  That will help you get into law school!” 

I guess I hadn’t exactly told him that my career dreams had shifted a bit.  And, as an English teacher, he may have had some contacts in the publishing industry for me, but I had never thought to ask. 

Some people aren’t comfortable asking their parents for help and connections—it’s fine if you feel this way, and of course there are lots of other connections you can access.  But if you are comfortable networking with your parents, then I’d make theirs the first Rolodexes on your networking list.
•    Accountability.  Ask one or both of your parents to check in on your job search progress.  It can be easy to procrastinate if no one is keeping you accountable.  Set goals on your calendar and ask your parents to check in with you on specific accomplishments, such as the “Make This Work For You” activities in this book. 
•    Bookending.  This is a life-saving strategy I learned from my own mom.  Whenever I am about to do something scary—making a cold call, negotiating a fee, having a difficult conversation with a colleague—I call my mom before the action to gear up and get confident.  Then, I make the difficult call.  Then, I call her afterwards to report on how it went.  I’ve also heard this strategy referred to as “sandwiching”—picture the scary action stuffed between two warm, friendly pieces of bread.  I urge you to try this when making a difficult call, going for an interview, attending a job fair, or pretty much any other time you need support. 

When to red light Mom and Dad’s help:
In all of the above “green light” situations, your parents’ help is firmly in the background; it is invisible to any potential employers or recruiters.  That is where mothers and fathers belong in the job search process.  Otherwise, an employer will question your maturity, independence, professionalism, and work ethic.  I’ve heard one too many stories from recruiters about parents attending job fairs on behalf of their children because the student is “too busy studying” or “interviewing someplace else and couldn’t make it.”  This is a huge red flag to an employer. 

Parents should never be involved in the following ways:
•    Calling a recruiter or employer for any reason—to pitch you as a good employee, ask why you didn’t get a job, to act as a reference, or for any other reason.  This includes summer jobs, internships, study abroad programs—anything.  Your parents should never talk to your potential employers about your career.
•    Attend a job interview or career fair.  If you need your mom by your side to get the job, then how will you function without her once the job begins?  I wouldn’t even bring a parent into the waiting room for an interview—you should be completely independent. 
•    Send out a resume.  Your resume and any career-related correspondence should always come from your own email address.  Never have your parents send anything on your behalf.  Again, it makes you look dependent and immature.

When in doubt about whether to involve a parent in any element of your job search, I’d err on the side of caution.  Since you’ll be out in the Real World on your own, now is a good time to start fending for yourself.  Encourage your parents to support you, but not to do things for you. 

About the author: Lindsey Pollak is a bestselling author, speaker, and blogger specializing in career advice for college students and young professionals. She is the author of Getting from College to Career: 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World and writes the top-rated Lindsey Pollak Career Blog. Lindsey is also the career contributor for ABC News on Campus, has written for Marie Claire magazine and Metro New York newspaper, and frequently speaks at universities and corporations across the country. She is a graduate of Yale University.

This article was excerpted from
College to Career: 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World. To learn more, visit

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